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Amnesty for Osama?:
The World's Forgotten Man

04.10.2006 | POLITICS

With bin Laden's latest tape, it's as if he's asking, "Have you forgotten me? Do we have to pull off another strike to compensate for America's national attention deficit?" Once again, absurd as it sounds, the question must be raised - are we trying to apprehend him or not?

Last year the US State Department generated a storm of publicity about increasing the bounty on Osama bin Laden to $25 million, with the added incentive of its soon being doubled. But did this represent an honest attempt to capture Osama bin Laden?

It worked with Saddam Hussein's sons, the argument goes, on whom there was a bounty of $15 million each. However, they were turned over with the expectation the US would prevail in Iraq.

Illinois Republican House member Mark Kirk, who wrote the bill for the publicity campaign, said, "We're looking for some young Pashtun... [who] can figure out how to reach us safely." Allah be with you, young Pashtun. First, dial (92) 51-208-00000 for the American consulate in Islamabad and ask for Crock, as US ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker will no doubt ask you to call him.

Keep in mind, however, that you might find yourself negotiating away much of the bounty in exchange for protective custody for yourself, your family, and members of your clan. (It would be instructive to learn what has become of the Husseins' informant and his people.) Furthermore, by the time such complex negotiations are completed, bin Laden is likely to have been re-safe-housed and the contract you were hammering out will be rendered null and void.

Perhaps, however, in keeping with US policy of using American contractors, that kind of money is actually intended to lure American mercenaries or bounty hunters. The story of Jonathan Idema suggests otherwise. Despite supplying the US military with what he described as a Taliban intelligence chief, he was arrested for imprisoning terror suspects on his own. Idema's conviction and sentencing to an Afghani jail term (however cush it's turned out, in his case) is sure to give pause to even the most grandiose soldier of fortune.

But from where do intelligence officials in Kabul and Islamabad summon the gall to claim there has been no trace of bin Laden for the past couple of years? Everyone knows Pakistan's ISI and Al Qaeda wallow together in a sty of co-dependency. One can't help but wonder if the bounty's primary function is to demonstrate not the sincerity, but the appearance, of an intention to apprehend bin Laden.

If we really wanted bin Laden would we subject ourselves to regular lectures by a mass murderer? "No doubt you recall the words of the conceited one," he scolded Bush about Iraq, "who said 'I will settle the battle in six days or seven weeks,' [that the] whole thing is a picnic in Panama." Whether as a terror kingpin or in his role as a foreign affairs analyst for OBL Radio and TV, bin Laden haunts us. Maybe that's because instead of trying to collar him like a criminal, however uncommon, we've fallen into the trap of trying to exorcise him as if he were a demon.

In response to 9/11, waves of shock and anger rippled forth from the Bos-Wash corridor. Then, three months later, ripping the bandage off still suppurating wounds, bin Laden issued the audiotape in which he took responsibility for 9/11.

A World Trade Center survivor, Mark Finelli, claimed the tape made him feel "violent and enraged... . I just wanted to punch the screen." Indianapolis firefighter Matt Hahn said, "What we're all looking for now is a swift, stern, exact punishment." In an article on Newsweek Web Exclusive, another WTC survivor, Eileen Touhey-Kiniery, no doubt spoke for many when she said, "I don't have the words to describe this maniacal coward, this living subhuman organism."

The response of one man who'd lost a daughter, however, was a portent. "It should be filed away and let the government and the CIA take care of it," he said. Meanwhile, immediately after 9/11, in Washingtonville, New York, a town that lost five firefighters, an open grave was dug and a huge headstone engraved with bin Laden's name was erected. Within a week, however, the headstone was replaced by the figure of a white eagle surrounded by yellow chrysanthemums.

Then, a few months later, a poll revealed that we were willing to risk large numbers of casualties among US troops in order to capture or kill bin Laden. However, as was beginning to become apparent, while this may have been a call for retaliation, it was also a plea to the government to take over and relieve us of the need to sustain messy feelings of revenge.

Instead many became preoccupied with healing. Tibetan Buddhist Gehlek Rinpoche said, "Your hatred, my hatred are our own Osama bin Laden. Your, my Osama Bin Laden is hiding behind the mountains of our hearts." However profound, coming just nine days after 9/11, he seemed like a waiter rushing us through dinner. We needed time to digest the anger.

At the other extreme was "Why We Should Love Osama Bin Laden," in which Kevin Williams, who maintains, an otherwise estimable clearinghouse for near-death experiences, tells us: "Although I believe that Bin Laden should be captured and imprisoned, I believe that we should love the man as we should love everyone -- unconditionally... . [the] terrorist attacks are really a cry out for help and it is our obligation to help them." Leapfrogging over anger might be standard operating procedure for a holy man like Gehlek Rinpoche, but the rest of us need to run smack up against it.

Try entering hatred for, or rage against, bin Laden into a search engine and watch what happens. The phrase keeps flipping around, as if the search engine were equipped with a spell check that automatically corrects, but has a glitch in its dictionary. The proper usage, it insists, is: Why do they hate us?

In fact, this bewildered sense of victimization has become all too familiar to us. Flogged by commentators, it's emerged as a prerequisite for healing. Let's examine the forces that are ostensibly strong enough to make us jettison the impulse to vengeance.

  1. Our innocence has been stolen from us. This is a product of shameless ignorance of our own military and CIA adventurism in foreign lands. It's aggravated by therapy-nation's credo that anger is not about how we deal with what provoked us, but how we handle the feeling itself. As for the less self-absorbed among us ...
  2. We're just too busy. Living in the most overworked developed nation, we scarcely have the time, even if inclined, to chew over how we were wronged, like others in the developed world might, or stew over it, like the underemployed of developing nations.
  3. Vengeance is so primitive. To many on the East Coast, anger and vengeance are akin to fire and brimstone, that is, the Red states. While recent polls show Americans favor restrictions of Muslims' civil liberties, in Manhattan no one turns a head at Arab music issuing from a Middle-Eastern, sidewalk-food-vendor's boombox. Unfortunately, this comes off less as a commendable reluctance to profile than, once again, an inability to feel and express anger.
  4. Since you asked, we're not actually angry. Many Americans dwelling in points distant from the attacks felt unaffected by 9/11. Others were glad New York and Washington were struck. Despite their disdain for the Islamic religion, they weren't above feeling grateful to its most extreme representatives for wreaking havoc on the real enemy: liberals and homosexuals. In fact...
  5. We ain't got no quarrel with them Arabs (no disrespect to Muhammad Ali intended). Conventional wisdom on why the president was reelected was summed up by Jeff Jacoby in a Boston Globe column: "Americans trust[ed] Bush's judgment on the overriding issue of our time: the West's life-and-death struggle against Islamist fanaticism... he got the core meaning of 9/11 right." If that's true, it's only because the administration sensed -- perhaps because of their own pet Saudis -- that Middle-Americans, whether or not they were actually grateful to the perpetrators of 9/11, had no innate antipathy toward Middle-Easterners. It wasn't widely understood, especially by an already-spooked East Coast. But the string of terror alerts that the administration issued during the 2004 election year was a means of expanding their "A" list of hatred along with gays, Mexicans, and the aforementioned liberals with the addition of Middle-Easterners.
  6. Bin Laden is not enough. Half of those polled by Zogby International in New York City on the eve of the Republican National Convention agreed that the administration had foreknowledge of the attacks. While that may be chalked up to fashionable urban cynicism, since then mouting public sympathy toward the issue has continued to rattle the lid of the trash can to which the mainstream media has relegated it and now threatens to blow it sky-high.
One can be forgiven for succumbing to the notion that, with its rush to judgment and retribution, there's something to be said for a Scriptures-based society. Our president, who acts under the assumption, right or wrong, that he's leading one, displayed an itchy plunger finger with convicted murderers, if only by proxy, while he was governor of Texas.

Thus, when he fails to pull the trigger on a mass murderer, you know there's something rotten in Peshawar. One can only conclude that the administration interpreted 9/11 anger that either flamed out or failed to materialize as license to use bin Laden's status to its own ends. Whether planned or evolved, its strategy comprises three stages.

Stage One: When
After the US allowed bin Laden to slip away from the Tora Bora cave complex, National Review Online columnist Rich Lowry said, "There is some legitimate worry about the fight against terrorism being so personalized." Because, quoting Richard Perle, "... if we do not get him, it looks as if we have failed."

But, Lowry maintained, there's a political upside to an ongoing hunt for bin Laden, no matter how much it resembles a leisurely spelunking expedition to Afghanistan's picturesque caves. Retaining bin Laden's services as a "poster boy" for terror, the administration can keep the public focused on terrorism "as we take the fight on to the next logical target, Iraq." Thus, Lowry concluded, it didn't matter too much whether he was killed before or after Saddam Hussein.

Stage Two: Whether
In the months following the Tora Bora debacle, the "when" of eradicating bin Laden degenerated into "whether." Top Pentagon officials increasingly argued that, alive or dead, he was now not only less important than Sadddam, but downright irrelevant. "He could walk in here tomorrow and Al Qaeda would go on functioning," Rumsfeld said.

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers chimed in too. "I wouldn't call [getting bin Laden] a prime mission." However, nothing could have been more of a slap in the face to 9/11 families and survivors than the anonymous Defense Department official who said, "Everybody wants to know where Osama bin Laden is. The next question is, who cares?"

If the Pentagon was trying to convince Americans that the fight against terror is about more than one man, that explains...

Stage Three: Amnesty
"The world may be better off if Osama Bin Laden remains at large," CIA former executive director Buzzy Krongard claimed. The latest in a line of CIA mouths that roared after spy-who-came-in-from-the-anonymity Michael Scheuer, Krongard added that, "If [bin Laden] is captured or killed, a power struggle [may occur] among his Al-Qaeda subordinates... . vying for his position and demonstrating how macho they are by unleashing a stream of terror."

Other officials have privately admitted that it may be better to co-exist with bin Laden rather than make him a martyr or put him on stage with a trial. Effectively granting him amnesty, whether permanent or temporary, also permits the Defense Department to continue using him as a rallying point for waging the war on terror in their own roundabout fashion. The irony, of course, is that downplaying bin Laden's importance to Al Qaeda undercuts his power to tug at the heart strings like a good poster boy should.

Allowing bin Laden to roam free, whether tethered to a dialysis machine, also nurtures our relationship with Pakistan's President Musharraf. No matter that the administration restrained the International Atomic Energy Agency from demanding the handover of Pakistan's rogue nuclear paterfamilias A.Q. Khan. As well, it looked the other way as Pakistan bought nuclear parts and supplies on the clandestine market. What apparently counts is that it spares Musharraf the coup attempt that forcing fundos (as pedigreed Pakistanis refer to fundamentalists) to cough up bin Laden might incur. Also, Pakistan turns over the occasional terror kingpin like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and fed us information on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Finally, laissez-faire-ing bin Laden makes it less likely that he'll be cornered. If he were, he might blurt out the extent of US complicitness in 9/11 as well as his and the likes of Mohammed Atta's connections with the CIA. So much for bringing a killer to justice.

Instead, bin Laden, who started out as a businessman, has been free to return to that role as a "venture capitalist." Of course, the start-up company he funds is likely to be a cell of bugged-out Qutbists, one of which may someday seek to stage the product launch to end all product launches -- the detonation of a nuclear suitcase. In addition, bin Laden now apes American financiers who fancy themselves sages with their Buffett-like pronouncements on the wisdom of the Dow. He is, in fact, the self-appointed successor to Sayyib Qutb as errant Islam's old philosopher.

Even those leery of any method of apprehending bin Laden other than with an international force should be able to comprehend how harmful it is for the body politic to "stuff," as they say in support groups, its anger toward an individual deemed a mortal enemy. For our inability to feel or sustain anger towards him is not an isolated phenomenon.

It's paralleled by our difficulty experiencing or sustaining outrage against our own government for its clearcut crimes, such as torture and, fading into the mist like most of their crimes, the failure to protect Iraqi munitions dumps. A society passive to threats from without is a society passive to threats from within. Thus is it ripe for either conquest by an enemy or plunder by its ruling class.

This article originally appeared on

About the Author
Russ Wellen is an editor at Freezerbox who specializes in foreign affairs and nuclear deproliferation.
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